Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was freed Thursday as a Seoul appellate court cleared him of some charges and handed down a suspended sentence.
The Seoul High Court quashed a lower court’s ruling on Lee, who had been sentenced to five years and handed down two years and six months imprisonment suspended for four years. Prosecutors had maintained a 12-year prison term for Lee.
The 50-year-old scion of the biggest conglomerate in South Korea was convicted of bribery, of giving 8.8 billion ($8.2 million) to former President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil, in return for government backing for the merger of two key Samsung units, which the prosecution viewed as critical for his leadership succession of the corporation from his ailing father, Lee Kun-hee.
Over the lower court’s verdict, both Lee and the prosecution had appealed the ruling.
Lee had faced five charges, including embezzlement and hiding assets overseas. But the upper court did not acknowledge that Lee had provided the illegal funds as an implicit solicitation for special favors nor acknowledge that Lee deliberately hid the assets. The court also denied Lee’s charges on perjury for falsely testifying before the National Assembly at a hearing last year.
The court, on the other hand, viewed the former President Park and her confidante Choi as joint principal offenders to the bribery case. Monday’s ruling is likely to influence Park and Choi’s trials, that is directly linked to the massive corruption scandal which led to Park’s ouster in March last year.
Park has reportedly submitted a petition asking for favorable handling of Lee last month, saying she did not take any illegal solicitation from him and that she also did not know Samsung had given financial support to her friend’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra.
Park, who was arrested on March 31 and indicted on April 17, has since been detained at a correction facility just outside Seoul. She will continue to stand trial while under detention until the first verdict, expected in early February, is reached.
As for four of the top Samsung executives who were put on trial for charges linked to Lee, the upper court lowered the charges, and gave suspended terms to all, including Choi Gee-sung, former head of Samsung‘s now-disbanded control tower Future Strategy Office, and his former deputy, Chang Choong-ki, who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison by the lower court.
Lee had previously denied all charges, saying that he had only been passively taking in the strong requests from the former president. He also insisted he did not need the help from the government as claimed, since he was “confident” to prove his leadership to executives and investors after he inherited his position.